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Second Thoughts Game #26: Indians 3, Angels 6

Second Thoughts Game #26: Indians 3, Angels 6
Michael Bourn's blunder in the first inning set the stage for another rough night defensively for the Indians. (Photo: AP)
April 29, 2014
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After being swept in San Francisco, the Indians traveled down the California coast and turned to their number one in game number one of three against the Angels. If you have paid even mild interest to the team's first 25 games, what unfolded in this one should come as no surprise.

The Indians' defense is so bad that this doesn't even deserve a real subtitle

Carlos Santana got off the snide with a three-run home run that accounted for 100% of the Indians' scoring (and a single), barreling up a poorly-executed curveball from a good curveball pitcher.Justin Masterson's velocity remained significantly down, but he pitched fine enough, though you wouldn't know it if you didn't watch the game (much more on that). Bryan Shaw continued to quietly do his job extremely well.

All of those things were merely a footnote in last night's contest. And really, anything else that has happened outside of this forthcoming narrative at any point in the first month has been, too. The Indians' defense is going to bury them.

Poor defense is not strictly about committing errors. It can also be about (and has been about) the ability to make routine plays difficult, the inability to not get to baseballs that many counterparts would, and making the wrong decisions. It has gotten so dreadful for this team that I just focus most of my energy during any given game on identifying not-so-obvious plays that less helpless defenders would make. Last night, like most nights, there were plenty of those, and far more glaring ones.

It started right out of the gate. Michael Bourn misplayed an in-between line drive that should have been a single into a triple. That run scored on the next play - a routine groundout that would have scored Mike Trout from third either way, but Jason Kipnis' throw still pulled Nick Swisher off the bag - and Masterson was at an early deficit.

In the second inning, David Freese, of average speed, was gifted a hit by Mike Aviles, as lackadaisical effort on the most routine of groundballs turned into an infield hit.

In the fifth, a seeing-eye single that would have been a double-play ball for a certain shortstop currently residing in Akron eludes Asdrubal Cabrera's limited range. Again, without consequence, but that doesn't mean it will be so the next time. And on a play like that, for him, there will absolutely be a next time.

Now, we get to Nick Swisher, who has perhaps been the worst of the worst so far this season. For the second game in a row, to my utter amazement, he was unable to even get leather on a ball that was hit within two to three feet of his starting point. At the very least, most first basemen deflect it a few feet away instead of letting it get down into the right field corner, if not completing the play for an out. He did neither, and it resulted in two runs to tie the game. Three innings later, his hurrying to flip a ball that he didn't quite secure puts the leadoff man aboard, the inning snowballs, and the Angels go on to win.

This game was not an outlier. These mistakes are happening on a daily basis. Indians starters have the fifth-worst earned run average (4.69), but the fifth-best fielding independent pitching (3.27), a variation of the former statistic that shows what it would look like if not for things outside of a pitcher's control, such as abysmal defense.

From a Fangraphs article by Mike Petriello last week: "...but they're being saddled with a .331 BABIP [batting average on balls in play] that is not only the highest in baseball, but would be tied for the second-highest in the last century." While reminding you that it is still April, and it will very likely not sustain, the number is now .340, just for the record.

Of course, this is nothing new. If you read Second Thoughts last Monday, I wrote that the Indians have been one of the five worst defenses in baseball over the last three, five and 10 years, often being the absolute worst. From a sheer probability perspective, it would be difficult for me to say that this is one of the worst defenses in baseball history. Being "one of the worst" at anything over nearly 150 years is really hard to do. But, the evidence is there that they are perhaps the worst right now and the worst for quite awhile, and without numerous major personnel changes, defense is going to kill this team.

Additional notes

Elliot Johnson Playing Time Tracker: 28.0 of 234.0 innings (8.36%). He absolutely has a role on this team of wayward defenders, but him continuing to stay on it while never playing remains a mystery.

Perhaps his veteran wisdom and tales of 25th-man triumphs radiate through the dugout, clubhouse and plane, bettering each teammate whose ears are reached - not merely just as baseball players, but as citizens of the world. Alas, what would this team do without him?

Roster business

After the game, Francona announced that Zach McAllister would start on three days rest Wednesday, with scheduled starter Carlos Carrasco moving to the bullpen. A fifth starter won't be needed until next Tuesday, but I think it is safe to assume that the writing on the wall is very legible: Carrasco won't be the one. Starters with one strong pitch, a flat fastball (no matter how hard), no viable third pitch and command issues (and mentality concerns, to boot) generally end up here.

Up nextCorey Kluber will take the mound for the first time since the best start of his career and the team's season. The Angels will counter with Jered Weaver.

Keep an eye on Santana, who appears to see the ball quite well against Weaver: 7-for-14, and four walks to just one strikeout.

User Comments

April 30, 2014 - 9:45 AM EDT
And here is (IMO) some of the most frustrating numbers with Carrasco:

Pitches 1-25: 22 PA, .333 BAA, 1.076 OPS, 3 K, 3 BB (1.00 (K/BB)
Pitches 26-50: 27 PA, .400 BAA, .927 OPS, 6 K, 0 BB
Pitches 50-75: 29 PA, .250 BAA, .732 OPS, 7 K, 4 BB (1.75 K/BB)
Pitches 76-100: 20 PA, .118 BAA, .368 OPS, 7 K, 2 BB (3.50 K/BB)

The 3rd time thru the lineup is when he has been at his best this year. When facing a batter for the 3rd time they are hitting .150 with a .470 OPS with 8 Ks in 26 plate appearances.

Obviously sample size is very small (just 4 starts) but reason he has been able to average 5.5 innings is he just seems to settle in after that 2nd time thru the lineup. VERY frustrating that he can be so effective deeper in the game.
April 30, 2014 - 9:31 AM EDT
Yeah the Cody Allen comp doesn't make much sense here IMO. Allen pitches 1 inning and knows he is gonna pitch 1 inning. Carrasco is going into his starts expecting to throw 6+ innings. Comparing apples to oranges.

Surprisingly with Carrasco....he has arguably been better the 2nd and 3rd times thru the lineup. His worst inning by far has been the 1st inning (OPS against over 1.100, ERA over 11). And his OPS against in the first 3 innings is actually higher than in innings 4-6....his K-rate is actually higher in the later innings too.

Not saying he can't make it in the bullpen or this is a terrible move (I wouldn't make it yet but understand it). But comparing his numbers to Allen's? That just doesn't make much sense.
April 29, 2014 - 11:35 PM EDT
Three "elite" secondary pitches? Yikes.
April 29, 2014 - 5:05 PM EDT
edit: should be "Untalented" he is not

sorry for the poor proofread.
April 29, 2014 - 5:03 PM EDT
Tony, how in the world did Carrasco navigate eight consecutive starts in 2011 with an average of 7 innings per start and a WHIP of 0.94 if he can't navigate the second and third time through lineups? And with his elbow virtually falling off, how did Carlos finish his season--his last before being shut down for surgery-- with a seven inning, 3-run outing in hitter-friendly Fenway Park? Heck, two of Carlos's starts this year--his first and last--he started weakly and finished strong; what evidence did they give about his so-called suitability to be a reliever?

Carlos may be many things--stubborn, jumpy, petulant--but talented he is not, and his arsenal, unlike Cody Allen's, is much deeper and more diverse, making him a candidate for the rotation. I buy the idea that some guys aren't cut out to be starters, but any good pitcher can be an effective reliever given time and preparation. The reverse is not true; some guys simply don't have the repertoire or physicality or makeup to be starters; Carlos is not one of them. He may not be wasted in the bullpen, but he certainly will be underutilized, just as Justin Masterson would have been had the vast majority of observers recommended.
April 29, 2014 - 4:46 PM EDT
Here is my main problem with all of the numbers thrown around for or against a pitcher. K/9 this. xFIP that. ERA here. LOB% there. A lot of them appear to be in a vacuum. I mean, Cody Allen has a 13.5 K/9, 4.2 BB/9, .375 BABIP, 80.8% LOB%, 2.53 ERA, 2.71 FIP and 2.71 xFIP. Should we be clamoring for him to be in the rotation as the numbers suggest? He has every bit the impressive arsenal as Carrasco. Obviously he is not someone to figure into the rotation, which is why things often times goes beyond the numbers but the quality of the innings, the effectiveness of the stuff over a longer duration of innings, and so on. With all of those numbers we keep seeing posted about Carrasco it to me implies he could be a pretty damn good reliever along the lines of Cody Allen. Look at Carrasco's history facing a lineup a second or third time versus one time.
April 29, 2014 - 4:10 PM EDT
Excellent information, Hermie, not that the Carrasco doubters will have any interest in it. There's no way Harang puts up the same numbers in front of our offensive defense.

Kevin's wrong about Carrasco's arsenal, by the way; he has not one, not two, but three elite secondary pitches. The problem is he can't get to 'em much because he throws too many poorly spotted movement-less fastballs. And, yes, that's a problem, a serious one, but not something that's going to be alleviated in the pen where throwing strikes with the fastball is usually job 1. It's going to be interesting. I'm happy other guys I like are going to get a shot soon (I mean, who doesn't enjoy watching Josh Tomlin at his craft? And who isn't rooting for Trevor Bauer?) but it's really, really disappointing that a final judgment may have been made prematurely on Carrasco.
April 29, 2014 - 2:35 PM EDT
2014 stats...

Player A: 9.38 K/9, 3.69 BB/9,3.75 xFIP

Player B: 9.41 K/9, 3.68 BB/9, 3.68 xFIP

One of those is Carrasco...the other Harang...

Here maybe this will help:
Player A: 2.23 FIP, 28.6% GB-rate, 0.0% HR-rate, 89.3% LOB%, .200 BABIP

Player B: 3.68 FIP, 54.0% GB-rate, 10.0% HR-rate, 52.8% LOB%, .355 BABIP

Not saying Carrasco has been better than Harang, but Harang has been beyond lucky to this point. Would have been worth keeping around in hindsight but there is no way he can maintain the numbers he's putting up.
April 29, 2014 - 2:19 PM EDT
No excuse letting harang go. They brought him here hoping to get lucky like they did with kazmir. He pitches well and let him go for carrasco who has shown nothing of late as a starter. Should have rode harang for as long as they could. There was no downside. And even wih our defense someone said his era would be 4 here? Don't agree, but 4 is a lot better than 7!!!

I said this when they released him. Why the hell bother bringing him here if he pitches well and you still don't want him? This was a classic tribe bottom barrel move they like to do each year. And they gave up on it. Don't get it
April 29, 2014 - 2:07 PM EDT
Agree with Walter.

I don't have an issue with Masterson staying out there for the 8th. He wasn't even at 100 pitches and was pitching well. How does that inning turn out if Swisher makes that play to start the inning? Maybe Masterson still gives up 2 runs but maybe pitching out of the windup and not having to worry about the runner he gets out of the inning unscathed. Only 1 of the 3 runs in that inning were "unearned" technically...but errors like that to start an inning can really negatively affect a pitcher.

As far as Elliot Johnson....agree he would seem to have a spot as he has been a solid defender in his career. Would make sense to bring him in late for say an Asdrubal Cabrera. Yet we never see it...

Francona was a great hire by the Tribe and glad we have him (so don't take this as a "let's fire Francona rant)...but he does have a big fault in that he can be too much of a player's manager. What got him into trouble in Boston and starting to get in the way here IMO. It's like he doesn't want to offend some guys so won't take them out for better defensive players. Very frustrating at times.
April 29, 2014 - 1:59 PM EDT
Even a casual fan can see how bad they are. A few days ago, Kipnis let a ball get by him that he, at least, should have kept in the infield. How many balls have gotten by Swisher to his left when there's maybe 10 feet to cover? In the meantime, opposing teams turn "hits" up the middle into double plays. It is depressing.
April 29, 2014 - 12:57 PM EDT
It might have not mattered if Swisher handled the ground ball that was hit to him. Could have changed the outcome of the inning.
April 29, 2014 - 12:45 PM EDT
Francona messed up and left Masterson in too long and ruined a good outing and caused the loss. Oh well, we all make mistakes....

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